Battle of the Chefs

If you’ve ever watched Iron Chef, you’ll pretty much get the
premise of the recent Steel Chef cook-off during Sonoma Showcase last weekend–throw a
good-natured group of chefs into an impossibly stressful cooking situation in front of an audience; keep the key ingredients a mystery until the last second; set the timer for 30 minutes (30 minutes less than the real Iron Chef) and then judge the outcome. Publicly.

Chosen by SRJC’s Culinary Arts Director Michael Salinger, the mystery foods for round one included gulf
shrimp, pork loin, figs, nectarines, corn, Andouille sausage cherry tomatoes
and fresh pasta.
For the championship round, the bag nicluded rack of lamb, loin of lamb,squash, tomatoes, Santa Rosa plums, fingerling potatoes, portabella mushrooms and Belgian endive.

I’m always surprised, frankly, that there aren’t more mental breakdowns during
these things. Because if you threw a bag of random ingredients at me with 30 minutes on the clock I’d probably start crying

But these are pros. First round competition pitted Jack Mitchell of
Sassafras Restaurant
against Jeff Mall of Zin Restaurant. Using the
first mystery bag, Mall swayed the judges with an impromptu dish of shrimp
and grits, pork loin with peppers and pinot sauce and the sliced fruit.

I barely had time to get the pork on the plate. I didn’t have time to slice it, and the judges were eating with plastic forks and knives. I honestly thought Jack had won,” Mall said.

Facing off in the championship round against Janine Falvo of Carneros
Bistro (who had topped Jeffrey Madura of John Ash & Co.), Mall did a
‘Ratatouille’ inspired, uh, ratatouille. But not just ratatouille–curry rubbed rack of lamb, ratatouille, grilled endive and
a pinot noir sauce with a Remy Pez dispenser garnish. “It was the fastest 20 minutes of my life,”
says Mall, who ultimately won the coveted Steel Chef title.

Never doubt the power of Pez.
Congrats, Jeff.

Want to know how how he did it? Mall dishes on his dishes.

For my first dish, I did shrimp and grits. I took the corn shucked it, cooked it in some
boiling water, took the kernels off the cob and added the cob back to the water
to make a corn stock. I then stirred in polenta,
I know -not really grits into the corn stock to make grits. I also added cream, butter, salt and the corn
kernels. I rendered out the sausage and sautéed
the shrimp in the fat with some tomatoes, peppers and white wine, and added
just a touch more cream. I took the pork
loin and pan roasted it, I also added some red peppers and Anaheim and jalapeno peppers I had
diced. I then added some fresh figs and
sliced nectarines. Deglazed with pinot noir and served over some fresh pasta.

For the championship battle I rubbed the rack with curry
powder, salt and olive oil and grilled it.
I dropped the potatoes in boiling water to cook half way, pulled them
out and sliced them and threw them into the oven with butter and salt to roast. Grilled the lamb loin, endive and portabella mushroom. Threw the plums in a blender with some port
wine and salt. Sautéed the squash with
onion, garlic and the tomatoes. Reduced
some pinot noir with chicken stock and balsamic vinegar. My first dish was the curry rubbed rack of
lamb with ratatouille, grilled endive and a pinot noir sauce. I did not have eggplant, so I could not make
a real ratatouille. I did have a ‘Remy’
Pez Dispenser from the movie ratatouille in my pocket. I used ‘Remy’ as a garnish. For the second dish I served the lamb loin
with the roasted fingerlings, grilled portabellas and Plum Port